ATLANTIC CITY — Atlantic City Expressway motorists will be able to skip the tolls on certain days in October and not have to worry about getting a violation notice.
The Atlantic City Alliance, the casino-funded marketing coalition in charge of promoting the resort town, will sponsor “Toll Free Tuesdays” throughout October as part of a broader marketing and advertising campaign for this fall.
Details of the promotional blitz will be announced Monday, including a preview of new television commercials portraying Atlantic City as an ideal autumn playground for tourists.
Jeff Guaracino, an alliance spokesman, confirmed that the toll-free trips will be one way of showcasing Atlantic City for “great values,” especially for midweek getaways. The promotional push will also feature hotel packages to lure visitors during what is usually a slower time of year at the Jersey Shore.
“It’s part of a wider marketing and fall advertising campaign to highlight midweek values and deals in Atlantic City,” Guaracino said.
The Atlantic City Alliance is the creative force behind the splashy “Do AC” multimedia advertising campaign that showcases the resort’s dining, shopping and entertainment attractions. Atlantic City is trying to reposition itself as a diversified tourist destination — instead of being just a gambling haven — in the aftermath of four casino closings this year and the threatened shutdown of Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in November.
The toll-free trips on the expressway will be the latest addition to the city’s grab bag of promotional freebies. Among myriad other giveaways, casinos have dangled free hotel rooms, free slot play and free show tickets to attract customers.
Guaracino declined to disclose how much the alliance will pay to underwrite the tolls, other than to say the cost will be “significant.”
“We want it to be wildly successful. We want it to be very expensive. We want it to be so expensive that we will do it again and again,” he said of the possibility of the alliance repeating the toll-free promotion if it proves popular.
Tolls will be waived from noon to midnight each Tuesday in October in the eastbound lanes of the expressway’s Egg Harbor and Pleasantville plazas, Guaracino said. Those two toll plazas are gateways to the shore. For Atlantic City-bound motorists, the toll-free Tuesdays will save them a total of $3.75 in fares.
Guaracino acknowledged that toll-free trips alone will not drive more business to Atlantic City. He said the promotion is more of a “psychological and marketing tool” that reflects the tourist-friendly values Atlantic City will offer during the fall season.
Atlantic City is exploring different ways to draw visitors instead of relying solely on the casinos as a magnet. Battered by rival gaming markets in surrounding states, Atlantic City has seen the Atlantic Club, Showboat, Revel and Trump Plaza casinos close down so far this year. Trump Taj Mahal is planning to shut down Nov. 13 unless it wins cost-saving concessions from labor unions.
As the main corridor to Atlantic City, the expressway is tied to the fortunes of the casino industry. Through the first eight months of 2014, expressway traffic has declined 1 percent overall compared to the same period last year, travel statistics show. However, traffic is down nearly 4 percent at the Pleasantville toll plaza, the last stop heading into Atlantic City.
The South Jersey Transportation Authority, the expressway’s operator, hopes that toll-free promotions will generate additional traffic and also serve as a catalyst for more tourism. In August, the authority approved a new sponsorship program that allows businesses or other groups to pay expressway tolls as part of an advertising campaign or special event.
“The authority is keenly interested in supporting events that promote tourism as well as economic benefits to the region,” the agency said in a statement.
Although motorists will not have to pay the tolls on Tuesdays in October, the Atlantic City Alliance will have to pick up the tab. Chickie’s & Pete’s, the sports-bar franchise that has a restaurant at Tropicana Casino and Resort, spent $13,000 to sponsor a similar toll-free promotion for expressway motorists during the Memorial Day weekend. Chickie’s & Pete’s paid the tolls in the eastbound lanes of the Egg Harbor plaza for an hour on the Friday evening of the holiday weekend.
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